I “happened” to visit the Eigth Circuit courtroom here in Decatur at just the right time to meet the Honorable Christopher Alexander Collins. He was most gracious and granted me an interview a couple days later.
Judge Collins was born Jan. 9, 1967, to Muriel and JoAnne Ethridge Collins, and was reared “on a dirt road, Route 3, Union, Mississippi.” He graduated from Union High School in 1985, from East Central Junior College with an A.A. in 1987, and from Mississippi College in Clinton, in 1989, having earned a B. A. degree in History and Political Science. In December 1992, the future attorney and judge earned his Juris Doctorate from Mississippi College School of Law. After taking the bar exam in February, he was sworn in as a lawyer in April 1992. He then spent 24 years as a lawyer.
Young Christopher was saved when he was nine, having been brought faithfully to Pine Grove Baptist Church by his parents since birth. He also said that singing in the adult choir from the time he was five years old gave him good experience in being in front of an audience!
In a later spiritual experience, Judge Collins told me, “The Lord got my attention through my search for a spouse.” During his last semester of law school, he moved to Florence, where he worked as a law clerk. He began attending First Baptist of Florence, where a friend, a senior member of the law firm, asked him to teach the college and career class of Sunday school in that church.
He had been praying for a wife. The Lord answered when He brought “a brown-eyed brunette to the door of my Sunday school class, on the morning of Nov. 15, 1992. He felt that God told him, “Never let her get very far away.” They were engaged nine months later in August 1993, and Tammy graduated in May of 1994 from University Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, with a B.S. in Dental Hygiene.
After he became a lawyer, Judge Collins was able to come home to Union on Labor Day 1993, to be an associate in a law firm there. But, speaking of Tammy, he knew he had to “get her hemmed up,” to get “red clay between her toes,” there in the “deep Southern Neshoba County.” He succeeded in these goals, as they were married on May 21, 1994.
Baby girl Kathrine JoAnne (Katie) Collins came Nov. 8, 1995, with Muriel Isabella following soon after, Dec. 19, 1996. The Collins family name would die with Judge Christopher Collins, if they did not have a boy. He told me, “My wife said she knew God was going to give us a son.” But they — she, particularly, I was told — had to pray diligently for five years before they greeted Christopher Alexander Collins II, on June 21, 2001! On Aug. 23, 2007, little Olivia Elise Collins completed the family.
In our discussion of his faith and family, Judge Collins offered, “If there’s one thing I know in this life, it is that God gave me a grace gift in Tammy Collins. She knows everything about me, and she still loves me. That’s my treasure!” He wanted to emphasize her ministry to women, also. For years, Mrs. Tammy Collins has been leading a Bible study class for women in their home, as well as teaching a ladies’ Sunday school class at church.
Judge Collins has continued to teach Sunday school all these years, since he started teaching in 1991. He taught young adult classes for 23 years, at First Baptist Union until they recently began attending his home church of Pine Grove because his father needed him. Now he teaches an adult class, in which the youngest member is 80!
Since his early 40s, the judge, for several years, attended a men’s Bible study at 6 a.m., where Dr. Kevin Meadow challenged him that if you want to know Jesus you should read a gospe
l weekly. He reads a gospel through each week, the Bible through annually, and daily reads a Psalm, a chapter of Proverbs, and a devotional reading. I included this information to encourage the rest of us to build up our own Christian spiritual life in similar ways.
It became obvious that he was not being prideful. He told me that, as an attorney and/or a judge, “a person needs to have confidence, to be assertive, to be strong- willed. But this lends itself to arrogance and narcissism. As I entered my 40s, God got my attention, humbled me. We shouldn’t try to be in the driver’s seat. I had to lean on God.” He shared a favorite slogan he had read, “Save time. Skip to faith.” He finished this subject by saying, “I’m on that sanctification journey. I know what kind of dirty, black sinner I am.” Be that as it may, he also serves as a deacon, a youth leader, choir member and in other community positions.
Learning of the humility of Judge Collins, it is still very impressive to hear of the path through which God led him, from a beginning lawyer to being a Circuit Court Judge. Beginning as a lawyer in April 1992, he was appointed to be a public defender for felony crimes, serving from August 1995 through March 2016. At the age of 32, in 1999, he became a civil judge for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, in which position he served until March 31, 2016, when he was appointed Circuit Judge by Gov. Phil Bryant. The public defender and tribal court judge positions both gave him great experience in trying cases before a jury, which prepared him for being a Circuit Court judge. I learned from his resume that he also served in several other positions in Mississippi.
Judge Christopher Collins has been working on a program, similar to the Drug Court that he and Mr. Marcus Ellis oversee in the Eighth Circuit, which is also greatly needed for the problems of the mentally ill. This would be one of the “problem-solving courts” that work to rehabilitate people, instead of just incarcerating them. The courts he mentioned to me are Drug, Veterans, DUI, and Mental Health Courts. In 2017, the Mental Health Court program passed in the Mississippi legislature. They are pursuing funding, which is the biggest hurdle they now face.
That week, I had observed someone, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, who was convicted and sentenced in Judge Collins’ courtroom. The judge told me, “It’s a burden that I feel. That disease accelerates.” Other conditions, such as bi-polar and other emotional disorders, would also be dealt with. He explained, “Often, as a lawyer, I’d see the same people over and over. People stop taking their medicines.” Then the crimes escalate from simple vandalism on up to violent crimes. He informed me, “The Mental Health Court would not be equipped to deal with violent crimes. We would get involved early, with non-violent crimes.” The goal would be to never let the person’s crimes get worse, more violent. He told me that “monitoring would be intense.”
Persons who met certain qualifications would be offered the chance to enter the program, which would include interventions such as weekly meetings with the Court and drug testing to ensure a person’s faithfulness in taking their medicines. The constant contact with an authority figure and the continual interest invested in them is sometimes the first time a person has ever experienced that kind of help.
This type of assistance is certainly needed in our society today. I am grateful for the Honorable Christopher A. Collins, and other public servants, who have been, and are being, proactive in exerting every effort to meet needs such as these in our own community and state.
You may contact me at [email protected] or 601-635-3282.